One of the top complaints most nonprofit staff have is about their Board.

“They won’t help with fundraising.”

“They don’t attend our events or even act like they care.”

“Don’t get me started about 100% Board giving – some of them think giving their time is enough.”

Can it be fixed? ABSOLUTLEY!

Just imagine – your WHOLE Board out there spreading the good word about your nonprofit in the community, telling their friends about your organization’s mission, and bringing resources back to help you change more lives.

It doesn’t have to be a fantasy. It can become your reality if you’re willing to work at it.

I’ve trained thousands of Board members how to do their job, including raise money. Along the way, I’ve learned a LOT about what makes an individual Board member tick. I’ve learned where they get hung up and why. And I’ve also figured out how to help them become a volunteer fundraiser.

Here are the steps I follow to create a fundraising board:

Step 1: Evaluate

First, take a look at who you have on your Board right now. Look at each individual Board member for engagement, skill, and willingness. Don’t try to evaluate the Board as a whole. The Board as a whole won’t help with fundraising, but individual members will.

Are your Board members engaged? Do they attend meetings and respond to your emails? If they aren’t doing the most basic things, you can forget about fundraising. Spend 5 minutes at the beginning of every Board meeting reconnecting people with your mission. Tell a story. Show a video. Do SOMETHING with strong emotional pull. They won’t re-engage on their own – you’ll need to help them.

What skills do your Board members have to work with? Do they have great people skills? Are they comfortable talking to others? Would they rather write thank-you notes? Make a list of each Board member’s skills that are useful in raising money. Later, you can plug them into roles where these skills can shine!

On a scale of 1 to 10, how willing are they to help with fundraising in some way? Sometimes Board members are willing to do things as long as it’s not making a direct ask. That’s fine – let them work in their comfort zone for a bit. Better to have them doing something they like behind the scenes of fundraising than doing nothing at all.  Help them understand that there’s more to fundraising than just asking and that will increase the chances of them saying “yes.”

Step 2: Inspire them

People will not necessarily decide to help raise money on their own. It’s your job to inspire them to do it.

What inspires people? Stories.

Tell them how your programs are changing lives. Show them video or pictures of your organization in action. Have a Board member talk about their experience volunteering.

When people are inspired, they are motivated to take action.

Step 3: Invite them to help

Once you have identified each Board member’s skills and inspired them to help, it’s time to plug them in where they can be successful helping raise money.

Not everyone will fit in the same spot. This is why you don’t want to ask at a Board meeting for everyone to go get a sponsor for the upcoming event. They won’t do it. Some of them think they don’t know any potential sponsors and others are afraid to ask.

If you match each person’s skills and interests with a fundraising activity, and invite them personally to help in a way that fits for them, you’ll be more likely to get a “yes” and see results.

Step 4: Support and celebrate

Once someone agrees to help, support them to be successful. Make sure they have the tools they need and that they know the deadline (if there is one).

Check in with them regularly to see how they’re doing. Ask if they need anything. Show them you care – it means a lot.

When they’re successful, congratulate them. Brag on them. Make a big deal out of it. We all like a bit of acknowledgement for a job well done, especially if that job was a little outside our comfort zone.

Remember this —
Most people dislike fundraising, usually because they’ve tried it before and didn’t like being told “no” or have some big fear around failing or looking stupid. Fundraising doesn’t feel natural to most people. We’re so used to being self sufficient that asking someone for help just goes against the grain. Add on top of that the fact that we don’t like being rejected, and no wonder people shy away from fundraising!

No one is born knowing how to raise money. It’s a learned skill. And I haven’t seen a Board member yet go out and learn those skills on their own.

It’s your job to train them and give them the tools they need to do the job.

You wouldn’t hire a new Administrative Assistant and just throw her into the job without some orientation would you? You’d show her around, go over her new responsibilities, and help her do her job. Same thing with your Board.
Teach your Board how donor-based fundraising works. Give them the tools they need to be successful. Every time I lead a Board retreat, I show Board members what fundraising is all about and I help them find their spot where they can plug in and be productive while still being in their comfort zone.

Realize this: you know more about what your Board should be doing than they do. So teach them. Share articles with them. Point them and tell them to sign up for their newsletter. Just help them. And don’t quit. You can’t provide education once to your Board and expect that to last forever. Ongoing education is a good thing.

It can take some time to make these kinds of changes on your Board. It’s like turning the Titanic – it’s a slow but important process.

And if what you really want is a Board full of people who help raise money, it’s worth spending the time on. 

Want more help creating a fundraising Board?

We’re offering our popular ecourse this month called “How to Create a Fundraising Board.” Every week, you’ll get a lesson delivered to your inbox that teaches you what you need to know to engage and train your Board. Curious? Get all the details (and an earlybird price!) at

This is the story of how a small nonprofit with no social media experience used the power of storytelling to raise $12,000 in 12 days.

Smoky Mountain Meals on Wheels is located in Maryville, TN. They provide home-delivered meals to seniors in Blount County and that’s just the start.

They also provide groceries for special circumstances, pet food to home-bound seniors, and often connect folks with other community services.

As you can imagine, they have great stories. They have some great photos, too.

In October of 2015, they started a Facebook page.  They didn’t really know what to do with it, so we worked out a plan of what to post and when, including stories, updates, and photos. Their audience started to slowly build, and even now they only have 190 “Likes.”

One of the things that’s hardest for program director Lynnda Manville is the waiting list. Knowing there are seniors who desperately need their services is gut-wrenching for Lynnda and her team.

So, Lynnda decided to create a Christmas campaign just for Facebook and put the focus on the waiting list. Her idea – 12 Seniors of Christmas.

She wanted to tell the story of 12 people waiting to receive meals so the public could really understand their situation and maybe even make a donation to get them off the waiting list. She knew that stories are powerful and it’s easy to tune out numbers, but not easy to ignore stories of specific people. It’s human nature.

She began the campaign with a teaser. Here’s what she posted on December 10, 2015: 

The next day, as promised, she shared the story of Ellie.

It didn’t take long for people to “Like” the post and start sharing.

The next day, she posted a couple, seniors #2 and #3. And look at the update she was able to share! 

She got Ellie sponsored in ONE DAY!!

As the days went by, she kept telling stories. And people kept giving.

She didn’t just share stories. She shared some great photos like this one: 

Lynnda got really good at tugging at the heart strings. Get your hanky ready for this update:

As Lynnda shared these stories, people continued to comment, share, and donate.

And others took notice. The local ABC station picked up the story

Of course, that drew more attention to the cause, and right at the holidays!

Soon, it was time for the last story:

She did it. Twelve stories in 12 days. The campaign was a wrap.

The next day, she posted this:

When all was said and done, they raised over $10,000 on Facebook with this simple campaign. Without a large audience. Without any fancy graphics. And without spending any money.

Why did it work?

First, she told gut-tugging stories about real people. The stories focused on the person and didn’t say much about the nonprofit (did you notice that?). When you start talking more about the organization, people tune out. Donors want to know about the lives being changed.
Second, the gap was clearly identified. She talked about the people on the waiting list and what it would cost to get them off it. For $3/meal they can provide a hot meal to someone needing it. Just $60 a month sponsors a senior. Can’t get more clear than that.

Third, there was a clear call to action long with a link to the website for donations. “Please consider donating.

Fourth, she were consistent in posting. She consistently showed up with a story and people began to look for them. Did she have other work to do? Yes.

Would it have been easy to get 2 or 3 stories posted then stop? Yes. But, results after the first post and that helped motivate her to keep going, along with her passionate commitment to eliminate the waiting list.

Fifth, and maybe most importantly, she gave frequent updates. Donors like to know what their money making possible. Lynnda was good to post frequent updates about seniors being sponsored.

When all was said and done, they raised over $12,000 from this campaign. The original goal was to get 12 seniors sponsored for $60/month. Those folks are now covered for almost a year and a half!

Kudos to Lynnda and her team for trying something new and for following my advice on story telling!

Fundraising is easier when you think like a donor.

The days of people giving simply because your nonprofit does good work are over.

Nowadays, people want to know that you’re having an impact. They want to know that their money is making a difference.

That means you can’t use the same old strategies and messages that you used in years past. You need a fresh message that resonates with donors and moves them to give.

If you can answer questions before a donor asks them, you can quickly build a sense of trust and increase the chances of that person making a gift to your nonprofit.

Again, fundraising gets easier when you think like a donor.

The problem with most messaging

If you’re like most, when you talk about your nonprofit, you’re focused on programs and process.

It’s what you know. You live and breathe your organization and you know inside out, upside down, backwards, forwards, and 10 ways to Sunday. Simply put, you share what you know. Often, it’s too much.

Donors don’t care about most of what you know. They are interested in outcomes and impact. They want to know about the lives that are being changed.

So the big problem with most messaging is that you’re focused on the wrong thing.

Instead, ask yourself this question. It’s the ONLY question you need to answer:

What does my donor want to know?

So, what DOES your donor want to know? How do you find out? How do you start to think like a donor?

It’s actually pretty easy.

Put yourself in the donor’s shoes and look at your nonprofit with fresh eyes. What would you want to know?

Or think about a nonprofit that you are interested in but haven’t given to yet. What would you need to know to give them $5,000?

You’d want to know they’re trustworthy, right? That they’ll use the money wisely. That they get good results, and more.

Now we’re on the right track.

The “Think Like A Donor” Exercise


Try this exercise to help you get into the donor’s head.

  • Grab a piece of paper and a pen.
  • Number 1 to 50.
  • Then start writing down questions your donor might have about your organization and programs.
  • Keep going until you get 50. If you can think of more than 50, you get bonus points.
  • Once you get your list of 50, prioritize them, with 1 being the most important thing donors want to know and 50 being the least important. Be careful with this – it’s not what you WANT donors to know, it’s what THEY want to know.
  • One a separate page, rewrite the top 10 questions and answers. This is your gold mine. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to share ONLY the stuff that falls in the top 10.

THIS is what your donors really want to know. THIS is the information you need to be sharing. THIS is what needs to be in your newsletter, social media, annual reports, website, and everywhere else you’re telling your story.

THIS is what will move donors to give.

Stop talking about your 25th anniversary and who’s on your Board. Stop talking about the conference you just went to or an industry award you won. None of that should be in the top 10.

Now, compare this content to what you typically share. I bet it’s pretty different. Adjust your messaging accordingly.

This exercise can change how you think about your organization and how much money you raise. When you share the answers to donor’s questions before they can even form the questions in their mind, you build trust, you set yourself apart from other nonprofits, and donors feel comfortable giving.

Want to make this exercise even better? Do it with your Board and write the answers on flip charts like this:

I did this with a client a couple of weeks ago, and we filled up 3 big flip chart pages. It gave us pretty good insight into what the messaging should be for a campaign they’re starting soon.

The worst thing you can do is the same thing you’ve been doing. If you want to raise more money this year, try thinking like a donor.

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that there are two sides of fundraising.

There’s the outside part where all the “how to” stuff lives. Do this, don’t do that, love your donors, etc.

Then there’s the inside part where it’s all about how you think and what you feel. Really, it’s mindset. And it’s more important than you might think.


Your mindset about fundraising will largely determine your success.

If you think you can be successful, you will.

If you think your organization is small, your community too rural or too poor, or that there’s too much competition, you’ll struggle.

Mindset is made up of all your experiences and your feelings about those experiences. It colors everything you do and accounts for most of your success or failure in life.

Seems like it would be a good idea to work on your mindset every day, huh?

Daily routines

Believe it or not, keeping a positive mindset has a lot to do with how you take care of yourself. If you have healthy daily routines, you’re more likely to have a positive mindset.

Trust me on this one. This is something I’ve been working on for myself for quite some time now.

In fact, about a year ago, I was feeling beat up, burned out, and overwhelmed. In talking with some friends, they suggested some changes to my daily routines. Not all of them worked, but many did. Today, I feel like a completely different person. My business is growing (no surprise there!), my health is better, and I’m happier.

I’ve tried lots of different morning routines to get my day started off right, and I want to share what I’ve pieced together over the last year. There’s a specific purpose to each part of the routine.

Sandy’s Daily Personal Success Plan

First thing when I wake up, before I get up, I ask myself

What am I excited about today?

And I come up with something. Some days are harder than others, but I find that having something to look forward to gets me focused in the right direction.

Next, I ask myself

What am I grateful for today?

And I mentally list everything I can think of. This puts me in a place of gratitude where lots of things are possible.

Next, I grab my journal and write for about 5 minutes. I brain dump what I’m thinking and what I’m feeling. Essentially, I pour my worries on the page so I don’t have to carry them around in my head. It’s quite freeing!

After that, I feed my horses, dogs, and cats, then plop down on the floor to stretch for 5 minutes. Some days I do a full blown workout, but at a minimum I get my body moving and ready for the day by stretching. I’m finding it really helpful to get my creaky knees moving this way!

Next up I shower, get dressed, and eat something – usually a green smoothie.

Right before I head out the door, I sit down and breathe for 2 minutes. I set the timer on my phone, I clear my mind and breathe in and out. Seems like a simple thing, but it really clears my head and prepares me for the day. I always feel more calm, centered, and grounded after this part.

When those 2 minutes are up, I do 2 more minutes of visualizing how I want the day to go. I imagine the successes I want to experience and the things I want to accomplish. This puts my brain to work anticipating how things will go.

Finally, I do 2 more minutes of how I want to feel about my successes and accomplishments. I imagine them happening and I let myself feel the joy and bliss of the success. If you know anything about metaphysics, you know this part is really important and gets your subconscious brain working on making it happen.

The combination of all these things puts my head in a place of positive anticipation and gratitude, and grounds my energy. I feel ready for whatever the day will bring.

Confession time! I don’t get through this entire routine every day. Some days, I do half of it, some days all of it and other days something in between. And then there are those days when I barely make it through 1 or 2 items. Life is a work in progress. I don’t beat myself up over ‘failure to complete.’ I just recommit to doing the best I can the next day.

Here’s a recap:

  • “What am I excited about today?”
  • “What am I grateful for today?”
  • Journal for 5 minutes
  • Stretch for 5 minutes
  • Shower/Get ready
  • 2 minutes of breathing/meditation
  • 2 minutes of visualizing a successful day
  • 2 minutes of feeling how great it will feel

These 16 minutes or so get me started on the right foot every day. And it’s not really that much time.

I encourage you to be purposeful about how you start your day – it really does matter. You can try my routine or come up with one of your own  – your Personal Success Plan. The point is to do something that gets your head in the right space so you can take on your day with as much strength as possible.

What about email?

Did you notice that I don’t check email first thing? I don’t look at my phone to see what’s come in?

Email is basically other people’s agenda in your inbox. Don’t start your day by dealing with what someone else wants from you. It can put you in a place of dread, overwhelm, fear, or anxiety, and that’s not a good way to start your day.

Whatever is in your inbox can wait until later, and honestly, you may want to skip it until mid morning. Work on YOUR agenda first, then check email later.

Additional resources

Here’s another sample morning routine to help you think about what you want yours to look like:

My friend Whitney Bishop offers this:

Want more ideas for things you can do to make a difference in yourself? Here’s a great article:


Here’s a great de-stressing list from the folks at Classy:

What things do YOU do that make a difference in your day? Have you found it to help you be a better fundraiser? Inquiring minds want to know – leave a comment on the blog.

Wouldn’t you love a crystal ball that you could gaze into and see just what the future holds?
You’d know how to make the best choices. Which paths to take. What to say “no” to.
But, isn’t the unknown the fun of life?
My inner perfectionist says “NO!” She wants to know what’s coming up so she can be ready for it when it happens. She likes to get things ‘right.’ (I’m trying to give up some of that ‘need to control things’ this year, but I digress.)
Sooooo, if you HAD a crystal ball, would you want to know how much money you’ll raise this year?
What if I could show you how to predit it? Would that make the year look a little less daunting and maybe more fun? Or at least relieve some of your anxiety about it?
Let’s do it. 😉
Now, to be clear, you’ll still have to work. Results don’t just show up without some sweat equity and work on your part. But, I can give you an idea of what’s possible and what it will take to make it happen. Cool?

Start here

Where do all good things start? With the end in mind.

Start by clearly defining your organization’s impact goal this year. What’s theBIG difference you want to make?

  • For an animal rescue, how many dogs/cats/guinea pigs do you want to save?
  • For a food bank, how many pounds of food and subsequent meals will you distribute?
  • For Habitat for Humanity, how many families will become home owners?

If your impact goal is substantial, that’s even better. It becomes a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) and that’s something donors get excited about. After all, no one makes big gifts to mediocre goals. (Think about that).
A good BHAG is something that may not be accomplished this year. And maybe not next year either. It could take some time. That’s okay. Don’t get hung up on something that can be neatly put in a box and checked off the list by 12/31/16. Focus on what matters – the lives your nonprofit is changing.

Here’s what a BHAG might look like:

  • For an animal rescue, you may try to take your community to No Kill status
  • For a food bank, you may want to eliminate hunger in your area
  • For Habitat for Humanity, you may want to make sure that everyone who needs simple decent affordable housing has access to it

See how big, hairy, and audacious those goals are?
Goals with zip and zing tend to raise more money than those that are ordinary and unremarkable.
Once you know what you’re working toward, then you can start with the prognosticating.

Set 3 main goals


Most folks focus on one thing in fundraising: money.
Seems obvious.
But if you’re a student of your craft, you know there are other things that are equally important, like donor retention.
Donor retention numbers are in the toilet across the board. And it’s stupid in my opinion. Be thoughtful and treat donors with a lot of respect and you won’t lose so many. The problem is that so many people are so focused on money that they forget about the donor and the relationship.
Want to keep more donors? Focus on the relationship instead of the money.
Right alongside donor retention, you need to think about donor acquisition. Where and how will you get new donors to replace the ones that are slipping away? How can you inspire them to want to pull out their wallet and make a donation?
So, there are 3 main things you should be focused on as you raise money:

  • Dollars you need to fund your work
  • The number of current donors you need to renew
  • The number of  new donors you need to bring in

Set specific, measurable goals for each one of these based on historical data, and predicting success will get easier. Lay out the strategies you plan to use (direct appeals, ask events, monthly giving, etc.) and how each one will support each of these three goals, and you can come very close to predicting what your numbers will look like this year.

Sprinkle on the pixie dust

Having a plan is one thing. Making it happen is another.
I see this ALL the time with clients. The ones who are committed to their success usually reach their goals. The ones who use lots of excuses are the ones who struggle. (If you find yourself using excuses like “I don’t know any rich people” or “It’s not a good time to ask for money,” you’re going to have problems. You might want to get some help with your mindset.)
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to noodle around on to get some fresh perspective on things.

  • What fundraising activities worked well last year that you can repeat this year? Is there a way to make them even more productive?
  • What didn’t work at all and should be let go?
  • What sort of worked but has room for improvement and needs to be tweaked?
  • What fundraising activities seemed easy to do? Which ones do you personally enjoy doing?
  • What fundraising activities do you despise?
  • What could you let go of that would free up some time and energy for something even better to take its place?
  • What could you delegate to someone else (other staff person, volunteer, intern, or committee)?

The answers to these questions will give you some clues about where to spend your time this year to get the most bang for the buck. I tell my clients to only do those things that bring them the most ROI and avoid the ‘nickel and dime’ stuff.

One last thing

There’s one really important thing that will play into your success in 2016: Self care.
How well you take care of YOU will have a huge impact on the amount of money you raise.
True confession: If someone had told me to take care of myself 20 years ago, I would have laughed at them. These days, we all work at a much faster pace than we did back then and more is required of us. It’s not funny now – it’s serious business and a real thing to include in your plan.
Some of this is mighty simple. That’s where its power lies. If you’re tempted to brush over this, think again. Only those fundraisers who are happy and healthy will consistently reach their goals. You won’t be successful if you’re sick, exhausted, or over-committed.
Focus on taking care of yourself this year.

  • Get more rest (sleep 8 hours a night)
  • Eat a clean diet (ditch the processed and junk foods)
  • Laugh more (it’s good for you!)
  • Spend time doing things you enjoy (it recharges your batteries)
  • What else would you add? What feels like pampering to you?

Carve out time for YOU in your schedule. Don’t settle for whatever is left over after work, taking care of your family, and all the other stuff on your plate.
Make yourself a priority.
In all honesty, this is one I’m working on for myself this year. I’m already saying “no” to things this year, and I admit it’s not easy. But I’m doing it anyway, because I know I’ll be better able to support my clients and students when I’m at my best.
Look for more on this next week. I’ll be sharing some habits and routines that successful people follow and swear by.
Make your prediction real
Something one of my coaches told me once was that if I want my goals to become real, I had to tell someone. It gives you some accountability.
I’d love for you to make your prediction real by sharing your fundraising goals for the year in the comments. I’ll be right here all year to root for you and cheer you on.

As the year winds down, I thought we’d take a look back at some of the most popular posts on the Get Fully Funded blog this year.
This will give you the chance to catch them if you missed them or re-read them if you saw them the first time around.
1. Dear New Board Member.  This is a great little piece for people who are new to Board service, written with a bit of Dr. Seuss /dear-new-board-member/ 

2. 46 Things You’re Doing That Push Your Nonprofit Donors Away. Here’s a great article written from your donor’s point of view. Pay attention here – there’s a LOT to learn! 

3. Top Nonprofit Fundraising Strategies for 2015. These were my projections for 2015, and I think they are still spot on as we move into 2016. See what you think. 

4. Myth of the Shoestring Budget. This article will give you a good dose of mindset mojo, along with a good idea of what an under-funded nonprofit looks like. 

5. 9 Steps to a Powerful Thank You Letter. Thanking a donor WELL is critical to building trust and forging a relationship. Make sure you’re following these 9 steps. 

6. What Do Your Donors Want? The better you understand your donors, the more money you’ll raise. Do you know what they want from you and from their experience of giving? Find out here. 

7. 7 Ideas for Last-Minute, Year-End Fundraising. It’s not too late to get a year-end gift. Even though I wrote these tips in 2014, they’ll still work well this year. 

8. The 7 Questions Your Fundraising Plan Must Answer. Everyone needs a fundraising plan, but most people don’t know where to start. This article will point you in the right direction. 

9. Are There Too Many Nonprofits Competing for Donations? You won’t worry about the competition after you read this one. 

10. 6 Things You Need to Know About Your Donor List. You list isn’t just a bunch of names on a spreadsheet. It’s fundraising gold! 

Which of these is your favorite? Is there one we should crown the “Best of 2015?” Leave a comment on the blog and you just might win a prize!

thank donorsIf you’re looking for a quick, easy, affordable, and dynamic way to thank donors this holiday season, then check this out:

Make and send a thank-you video.

It’s super easy to shoot. Just use your smart phone. No fancy equipment or skill needed (isn’t THAT a relief!).

With YouTube being one of the biggest social media platforms out there, people are used to seeing videos that aren’t professionally done. No need to hire a film crew and spend thousands when you already have everything you need!

Just share your message from the heart and you’ll wins tons of brownie points with your donors.

How it works

First, choose the donors you want to thank. Start with your top ones or ones who have been particularly helpful lately. You might start with your Board to practice.

Decide what you want to say. You might want to create an outline of the points you want to make. I wouldn’t create a word-for-word script because it puts too much pressure on you to be perfect. This needs to be real and in-the-moment. You may need to practice a couple of times until you get comfortable shooting video and getting the words out that you want to say.

Make it personalized. Start the video by mentioning the donor by name. Yes, this means you’ll need to make each donor their own video. And I promise it will be worth the few minutes you’ll spend doing it. Bonus points if you mention something in the video that is specific to the donor (a family member, a recent trip they took, or something else that lets the donor know you’re paying attention to them).

Keep it short. Don’t ramble. Shoot for about a minute, maybe a minute and a half. People just won’t watch long videos (they’re too busy).

Done is better than perfect. Don’t let your perfectionism drama get in the way here. A good video with a flub in it that warms a donor’s heart is better than a video that never gets finished because the shooter can’t ‘get it right.’ Your thank-you video doesn’t have to be perfect – it just has to be sincere.

Once you have the video done, upload it to YouTube and make it “unlisted.” That means only someone with the link can see it. Then email the donor the link and watch what happens.

Sample time!

thank donorsI have lots of clients doing these videos this holiday season and their donors are LOVING them!

Here’s one I got from the Watauga Humane Society recently:

Kivi from Nonprofit Marketing Guide has a whole collection of thank-you videos on YouTube at and

And here’s a list from Network for Good:

Have YOU made a thank-you video? I’d love to see yours. I’d love to see yours. Leave a link in the comments on the blog.

nonprofit donorsOne of the best things you can do to become a better fundraiser is to be a donor to another nonprofit.

You’ll get great insight into the experiences a donor has and how they impact future giving decisions.

I’ve donated to lots of organizations over the years. Some disappoint me. Some meet my expectations. Very few wow me.

I remember the ones that wow me and the ones that piss me off. Everyone else? Can’t remember much about them. We tend not to remember the mediocre.

As a fundraiser, you need to do everything you can to give your donors a great experience, especially one they’ll remember. A good experience reaffirms their decision to give to you. It makes them feel good about you, and that builds the trust they need to feel to want to give to you again.

The biggest problem is that your donors won’t tell you when you’re being mediocre. Sometimes they’ll tell you when you’ve made them mad, but mostly they’ll just go away. The better you can understand them and get inside their head, the better you can guess what they’ll enjoy and give it to them.

How to Lose a nonprofit Donor

I thought I’d share with you some of my own experiences as a nonprofit donor. I think there’s something for you to learn from all of them. You may have made some of these mistakes yourself. If so, recommit yourself to giving your donors a good experience.

I’ll put these in 3 categories of sure-fire ways to lose donors.

1. Don’t thank them well.

There’s nothing worse in my opinion than giving to a nonprofit then never being thanked. I remember several years ago, I gave to an animal shelter in my area and offered to volunteer with them. I was new to the community and really excited about getting involved. I never got a thank you letter of any kind, nor did they take me up on my offer to volunteer. The next time I heard from them, they were asking for more money. Ugh. I had already given up on them and moved on to something else. Think about what they missed out on. Would you want someone like me as a volunteer? They missed out.

On another occasion (and another nonprofit), my family adopted an animal. I believe adoption is a high-water mark emotionally. Think about it – when you get a new dog or kitten, don’t you post a ton of pictures on Facebook? You tell everyone about your new family member, don’t you? Well, next thing I know, I’m getting a letter from the organization thanking me for my donation. Donation? I didn’t donate! I adopted!  I was aggravated that they hadn’t booked my check correctly, and when I called them about it, they said “Oh, we use that same letter for everything.” That seemed kind of lazy to me and I didn’t really want to give to them again.

nonprofit donorsAnother experience happened just a few months ago, when I attended a fundraising breakfast for a local nonprofit. It was a good event and they raised about double what they did the year before. I made a monthly commitment, then didn’t hear from them for over 6 weeks. By then, I was frustrated and couldn’t decide if they weren’t organized enough to thank me and give me an envelope for my first gift, or if it just wasn’t important. Still don’t know.

Then this happened. I attended a client event a couple of months ago and made a monthly pledge. I got a warm email the next day. Then a couple of weeks later, I got a warm, friendly (and short!) thank you letter, with a personal note on it. The envelope was hand-addressed with a live stamp on it. Plus there was a cute little insert in it that I’m tempted to leave on my desk. I like looking at it – it makes me feel good!

Do This! Most thank you letters are boring and predictable. Imagine your donor sitting across your kitchen table from you, and think about what you’d say. Write that. A conversational letter will hit the target almost every time and help the donor feel good.

2. Don’t support their giving


Make it easy for people to give. If that means you need to give them 12 envelopes to send their monthly donations in, do it. If you need to get a merchant account so you can process donations online, do it.

My husband and I were asked to make a large donation several years ago to a capital campaign for a local nonprofit we supported. We thought long and hard about it and finally committed to an amount that was a stretch for us, and committed to a quarterly payment. We received a thank you letter, then never heard another thing from the organization. No quarterly reminders. No envelopes to send the donations in. No offer to take our credit card number and automate it. Nothing. I was incredibly disappointed. As a donor dipping my toe into the major gift waters, I was excited about giving a larger than normal amount. That all fell apart when the organization failed to support us to give.

The really sad thing is that was the 2nd time I’d had that experience. I had the EXACT experience with another nonprofit several years earlier. Do people not want these gifts once they go to the trouble of asking for them? Or are they expecting donors to do all the work of remembering to pay the pledge, find their own envelope, etc? In this day and age, with people as busy as they are, you need to make it SUPER EASY for people to give. Take away any barriers to them giving.

Do This! Do whatever you have to do to make it easy for people to give. It’s about making the donor’s life easier, not necessarily yours.

3. Don’t engage them.

If you want me to give, you need to inspire me. You know what doesn’t inspire me? Your anniversary. Your goals. Your annual fund. Anything that focuses on you. As a donor, what I want to know about is the work you’re doing to change lives. How are you making a difference? What are you doing that matters?

On Giving Tuesday this year, I received a large number of emails. One asked me to give $20 in honor of the nonprofit’s 20th anniversary. Boring. I don’t care. Anniversaries are important to the people inside the organization, but not to donors. We EXPECT you to be around. Your anniversary doesn’t really change lives, so what exactly about that pulls my heartstrings?

The same day, I received another email that knocked my socks off! Here’s part of it:

nonprofit donor

I love, love, love the photo! I love that the message is short. I love that they related their task to something I’m doing.  This one just hit me on all kinds of levels. I found it very connecting and engaging. Put this one side by side with the one asking for $20 in honor of their anniversary, and which one do you think wins?

Do This! Inspire your nonprofit donors. Tell them stories. Give them a reason to care. Tell them why they should trust you and why you need their support NOW.

Between now and the end of the year, you’ve got time to wow your nonprofit donors. You have time to inspire and motivate them. Monitor what you’re sharing and make sure it’s engaging to them. Focus on them first and you’ll be the beneficiary.